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On August 8, 2005, at an undetermined time, a Beech V35B, N1212V, registered to and operated by the private pilot, collided into mountainous, wooded terrain and caught fire in the vicinity of Ellijay, Georgia. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 with a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan filed. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the vincinity of the accident site. The private pilot received fatal injuries, and the airplane was destroyed by impact and by postimpact fire. The flight departed Lake Norman Airpark (14A), Mooresville, North Carolina, about 0941 eastern daylight time on August 8, 2005.
According to air traffic control (ATC) records, the pilot telephoned the Raleigh automated flight service station (AFSS) at 0758 to file a VFR flight plan and receive a standard weather briefing for a flight from 14A to Smyrna Airport (MQY), Smyrna, Tennessee. The filed route of flight was from 14A direct to the Spartanburg VORTAC, Spartanburg, South Carolina, direct to Lovell Field (CHA), Chattanooga, Tennessee, then direct to MQY. At 0944, the pilot contacted Raleigh AFSS via the radio to activate the VFR flight plan.
According to ATC transcripts, at 0948:43, the pilot contacted the Greer air traffic control tower radar west controller in Greer, South Carolina, and reported, "I'm currently uh on the uh west side at Charlotte uh class C airspace, I'm VFR, I'm going to try to settle in at four thousand five hundred to Smyrna, Tennessee, I was wondering if I could get flight following, sir." The controller provided the pilot a squawk code and at 0953:36 advised the pilot, "november one two victor, radar contact two miles southeast of the Shelby airport [Shelby, North Carolina], altimeter three zero one two," and the pilot acknowledged. At 1008:05, the pilot stated, "good morning, Greer, november one two victor with you at four thousand five hundred, but to maintain VFR, I'm going to six thousand five hundred," and the controller acknowledged. According to the controller, the flight climbed to 6,500 feet, then descended back to 4,500 feet. At 1011:31, the pilot advised the controller that his altitude was 4,500 feet. At 1020:28, the controller stated, "november one two victor, leaving my airspace, squawk VFR, frequency change approved." The pilot replied, "roger, going VFR, one two victor." The flight was east of the Foothills VORTAC when radar services were terminated, and no further radio communications were received from the flight
When the flight failed to arrive at its destination, a search was initiated. A representative from the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Georgia Wing, reported that adverse weather affected the CAP search efforts on August 8 and 9, 2005. The CAP representative stated that the weather conditions were not suitable for using fixed-wing aircraft to perform searches and that CAP observers rode in State Police and U.S. Army helicopters to search for the airplane. The searchers did not receive any signals from an emergency locator transmitter (ELT). The wreckage was located by a search spotter in a helicopter on August 10, 2005, in mountainous wooded terrain east of Springer Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The accident site was about 22 nautical miles (nm) south of the pilot's filed route of flight.
A pilot-rated witness at a residence in the vicinity of Springer Mountain reported that weather conditions on the day of the accident included an overcast cloud layer below 3,000 feet, thunderstorms, and rain.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. He held a third-class airman medical certificate issued November 25, 2003, with the restriction "must wear corrective lenses." The pilot's logbook was not recovered for examination. On the pilot's application for his airman medical certificate, he reported 548 total civilian flight hours.
The airplane was manufactured in 1979. It was powered by a Teledyne Continental Motors IO-520-BB(14)B engine and was equipped with a McCauley 2A36C23-PE constant-speed, two-blade propeller. A review of the maintenance logs for the airframe, engine, and propeller revealed an annual inspection was completed on March 1, 2005. The entries for the annual inspection recorded a tachometer reading and airframe total time of 2354.56 hours, engine time since major overhaul of 1263.26 hours, and propeller time since overhaul of 551.46 hours. A maintenance log entry for an oil change and compression check dated June 22, 2005, recorded a tachometer reading and airframe total time of 2403.65. Damage precluded obtaining a tachometer reading from the instrument at the accident site.
Aviation Weather Forecast Information and Advisories
The area forecast (FA) issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) Aviation Weather Center at 0445 on the morning of the accident was valid until 1700. The forecast for the mountains of North Carolina was for ceilings broken at 3,500 feet, overcast at 5,500 feet with tops to 30,000 feet, visibility 3 to 5 statute miles (sm) in mist, widely scattered rain showers and isolated thunderstorms with cumulonimbus tops to 45,000 feet. From 1500, the forecast was for overcast clouds at 5,500 feet with scattered rain showers and thunderstorms with cumulonimbus cloud tops to 45,000 feet. The forecast for northern Georgia was overcast to broken clouds at 2,000 feet with tops at 4,000 feet, overcast at 9,000 feet with tops to 30,000 feet, visibility 3 to 5 sm in mist, and widely scattered rain showers and thunderstorms with cumulonimbus cloud tops to 40,000 feet. Becoming from 1200 to 1400, the forecast was for broken clouds at 3,000 feet and 5,000 feet with widely scattered rain showers and thunderstorms with cumulonimbus clouds tops to 45,000 feet.
The NWS issued the following AIRMETs that were current for the time of the accident. AIRMET Sierra Update 1 was issued at 0445 on the morning of the accident and was valid until 1000. AIRMET Sierra Update 1 was for instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions and mountain obscuration in areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The affected area included the accident site and the flight route from 14A. AIRMET Sierra Update 1 advised occasional ceilings below 1,000 feet, visibility below 3 sm in precipitation, mist, and fog with conditions continuing beyond 1000 through 1600 in the northern half of Georgia and South Carolina Mountains. The AIRMET included mountain obscuration in areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The affected area included the accident site and portions of the flight route and advised mountains occasionally obscured in clouds, precipitation, fog, and mist with conditions continuing beyond 1000 through 1600.
AIRMET Sierra Update 2 was issued at 0655 and was valid until 1000. AIRMET Sierra Update 2 was for IFR conditions and mountain obscuration in areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The affected area included the accident site and the flight route from 14A. AIRMET Sierra Update 2 advised occasional ceilings below 1,000 feet, visibility below 3 sm in precipitation, mist, and fog, with conditions continuing beyond 1000 through 1600 in the northern half of Georgia and South Carolina mountains. The AIRMET included mountain obscuration in areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The affected area included the accident site and portions of the flight route and advised mountains occasionally obscured in clouds, precipitation, fog, and mist with conditions continuing beyond 1000 through 1600.
AIRMET Sierra Update 3 was issued at 0945 and was valid until 1600. AIRMET Sierra Update 3 was for IFR conditions and mountain obscuration in areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The affected area included the accident site and the flight route from 14A. AIRMET Sierra Update 3 advised occasional ceilings below 1,000 feet and visibility below 3 sm in precipitation and mist with conditions in the southern half of Georgia and Florida ending by 1200 and conditions ending elsewhere between 1400 and 1600. AIRMET Sierra Update 3 included mountain obscuration in areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The affected area included the accident site and portions of the flight route and advised mountains occasionally obscured in clouds, precipitation, and mist with conditions continuing beyond 1600 through 2200.
The terminal aerodrome forecast (TAF) for CHA issued at 0629 forecast visibilities of 5 sm with mist, showers in the vicinity, scattered clouds at 800 feet, ceilings overcast at 2,500 feet; temporarily between 0600 and 0900 visibility 3 sm with light rain and mist, ceilings broken at 800 feet, overcast at 1,800 feet; from 1100 visibility greater than 6 sm, ceilings broken at 3,000 feet, overcast at 6,000 feet; temporarily between 1100 and 1500, visibility 4 sm with light rain showers and mist, ceilings broken at 2,000 feet and overcast at 4,000 feet.
Observations from Reporting Stations
Reported weather conditions from stations along the flight route included the following information obtained from official NWS meteorological aerodrome reports: Greenville Downtown Airport, Greenville, South Carolina, located about 7 nm southwest of Greer and 90 nm east of the accident site, reported at 0953 conditions were visibility 6 sm in mist, ceilings overcast at 400 feet, and rain began at 0858 and ended at 0915. At 1036, conditions were visibility 7 sm, ceilings overcast at 600 feet, and rain began at 1003 and ended at 1027. Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport, Gainesville, Georgia, located about 30 nm east-southeast of the accident site, reported at 1036, conditions were visibility 8 sm with ceilings broken at 500 feet and 900 feet and overcast at 1,800 feet. At 1053, conditions were visibility 3/4 sm in heavy rain and mist, and ceilings broken at 500 feet and overcast at 1,800 feet. At 1118, conditions were visibility 2 1/2 sm in light rain and mist, few clouds at 300 feet, and ceilings broken at 700 feet and overcast at 1,800 feet.
A Safety Board senior meteorologist reviewed Geostationary Operations Environmental Satellite number 12 (GOES-12) data obtained from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and displayed on the National Transportation Safety Board's Man-computer Interactive Data Access System (McIDAS) workstation. Both visible and infrared imagery were obtained for the area for the estimated time of the accident. The satellite imagery from 1000 through 1100 taken at approximate 15-minute intervals were reviewed. The image for 1032 depicted a large area of low stratiform clouds with a second band of low- to mid-level cloud cover over northern Georgia, southern Tennessee, and western North Carolina. Several embedded towering cumulus to cumulonimbus clouds were depicted to the northeast through southeast of the accident site, indicating vertical development and rain showers.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Examination of the accident site revealed the wreckage was located at an elevation of 2,975 feet in an area of mountains with the highest summits of about 3,400 feet. Wreckage debris and broken tree limbs were scattered about 120 feet on an approximate 190-degree magnetic heading. The horizontal angle from the tops of the first broken trees to the location of the fuselage on the ground was about 65 degrees. The fuselage was fire-damaged, partially consumed by fire, and resting on its left side, the engine was partially separated, the aft fuselage was partially consumed by fire, the nose landing gear was separated, the left wing was separated, and the right outboard wing was separated. The propeller hub and blades were separated from the crankshaft flange and found in a ground crater about 5 feet deep beneath the fuselage. The cockpit, cabin, and sections of the wings were fire-damaged. The airplane's Communications Components Corporation CIR-11-2 model ELT was found separated on the ground, its external antenna was not attached, and its switch was in the "off" position. The wreckage was recovered via helicopter and examined further at Mosby Army Heliport, Camp Frank D. Merrill, Dahlonega, Georgia.
Examination of the fuselage revealed the cockpit was fire-damaged from the instrument panel to about 2 feet aft of the rear cargo door. The cockpit seat materials were consumed by fire, and the frames of the four forward-facing seats were deformed and fire-damaged. The left front seat frame, which was found separated on the ground near the left front of the fuselage, was deformed to the left. The seat track brackets for the left front seat had both bolts in place. The instrument panel was crushed and fire-damaged. The throwover control column was found positioned to the left side, and both horns were intact. The rudder pedal bar was impact- and fire-damaged. The control chains were around the wheel. The engine controls were impact- and fire-damaged; the throttle control was about 3/4 forward, the mixture control was full forward, and the propeller control was full forward. The fuel selector valve was found selected to the left port and was impact- and fire-damaged.
Examination of the left wing revealed it was separated at the wing root. The left flap was separated, the left aileron was partially separated with about a 1-foot outboard section of the aileron attached at the outboard hinge. An approximate 3- to 4-foot section of the center of the left wing was separated and fire-damaged, the main fuel filler cap was secure in its port, and the wing section was crushed from the leading edge aft to the spar. An approximate 1.5-foot section of the left outboard flap was separated with the outboard flap hinge attached. The left flap actuator was extended 1 3/4 inches.
Examination of the right wing revealed about 4 feet of the inboard section were attached, an inboard section of the right flap was attached, and the flap actuator was extended about 1 7/8 inches. The main fuel filler cap was secure in its port. The separated outboard section of the right wing was fire-damaged and crushed from the leading edge aft, and the aileron was attached. The aileron bellcrank was damaged and attached to the wing, and the balance and control cables were separated. The right aileron balance cable end was found with the fitting attached, and continuity for the balance cable was established to the left aileron attachment.
Examination of the empennage revealed both ruddervators were attached, the rudder actuators were attached, and control cable continuity was confirmed to the aft cabin. The right ruddervator was damaged outboard of the trim tab, the counterweight was in place, the trim tab was attached, and the trim actuator was in place. The left ruddervator was crushed from the leading edge aft, the section outboard of the crush area was separated, the counterweight was not located, the trim tab was attached, and the trim actuator was in place.
Examination of the engine revealed the exhaust system was crushed, the oil sump was fractured, and the bottom of the No. 4 cylinder showed crush damage with fractures near the intake and exhaust ports. The valve covers were removed to facilitate examination. Valve train and accessory gear continuity was observed when the crankshaft was turned, and compression developed on the Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 cylinders. The fractured No. 4 cylinder did not develop compression, but the piston was observed to move when the crankshaft was turned. The oil filter was separated, and examination of its element showed no evidence of metallic debris. Both magnetos were separated, and the ignition harnesses were damaged. The left magneto produced spark on five of the six leads when rotated, the tower for the nonsparking lead produced spark when the lead was removed, and the impulse coupling engaged. The leads for the right magneto were impact- and thermal-damaged, the magneto produced spark from all six towers when rotated, and the impulse coupling engaged. The top spark plugs were removed for examination and showed light grey to white-colored deposits and varying degrees of wear consistent with the "normal" to "normal - worn out" conditions on the Champion AV-27 comparison card. The fuel pump produced suction when manipulated by hand, and the fuel pump drive coupling was intact. The fuel flow manifold was free of debris, and the diaphragm was intact. The throttle body was impact-damaged. The vacuum pump shear drive was intact, and the rotor was fractured.
Examination of the propeller revealed the spinner was crushed onto the hub assembly. One propeller blade was separated from the hub, its tip was absent, and the blade showed pronounced s-bending, twist deformation, chordwise scoring, and leading edge gouges. The other propeller blade remained attached to the hub and showed twist deformation, chordwise scoring, and leading edge gouges.
A handheld global positioning system (GPS) unit, a Garmin GPSmap 295, was retrieved from the wreckage. Examination of the unit at the manufacturer's facility in Olathe, Kansas, revealed that impact and thermal damage precluded data retrieval.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Division of Forensic Sciences, Decatur, Georgia, performed an autopsy on the pilot on August 11, 2005. The autopsy report listed the pilot's cause of death as "multiple blunt force injuries." The Federal Aviation Administration, Forensic Toxicology Research Team, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, performed forensic toxicology on specimens from the pilot. The toxicology report stated that tests for a variety of drugs revealed none were detected in the liver. The report stated that quantities of ethanol and n-propanol were detected in the muscle and liver, and n-butanol was detected in the muscle; however, putrefaction was evident.
The aircraft wreckage, except for the Gamin GPSmap 295 unit retained for further examination, was released on October 17, 2005. The Garmin GPSmap 295 unit was released on November 30, 2005.